Shelter Bay to Bocas del Toro

Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Mon 7 May 2012 22:25
We stayed longer than we had intended at Shelter Bay Marina. Two reasons really, one, it gets cheaper per day the longer you stay and two, we needed some alternator belts and oil filters before heading off on a long motoring trip to Bocas.  For some reason the starboard engine had eaten through three of the four belts we'd bought in Guatemala, each one lasting just a few weeks before shredding. The Yanmar agent in Panama carries very little and Mastry in the USA would not ship into another distributor's territory. There was nothing for it but to take the marina courtesy bus into Colon and get dropped off near a recommended engineering supplies store called Garcias which, apparently, would have just about anything you needed provided you took a sample of the original with you. We had one last Yanmar belt and a filter we had recently changed so took those. The Admiral, meantime hopped off the bus at the Millennium shopping mall to buy some towels and Damp Rid (De-humidifier crystals) before taking a taxi back to the Rey Supermarket to undertake a final stock up.
Garcias is every engineers dream and run with very strict security to ensure the owner actually stays in business as a quick peek at the stock room revealed plenty of scope for shrinkage. There is only one cash desk which is behind protected glass screens - this is Colon after all! A strict system of dealing with customers had Skip running up and down the long counter with his sample belt and oil filter whilst around him muscular mean-looking locals looking as though they were buying parts for their getaway cars were slumped on the stools in front of the counter waiting for their turn. Skip did his best to also look hard and mean, but soon gave up. He subsequently ordered a 150 lb rated torque wrench for $13 which would be useful on the boat but could also come in handy outside the shop should the worst happen whilst waiting for his taxi to the Supermarket.
Two newcomers to the marine world - Aldabra (It's on Google) and this new fast day charter catamaran. Know which one we prefer!
We were relieved to get back to Shelter Bay in the courtesy bus which, as usual, was heaving with other cruisers and their shopping bags. One 'famous' name amongst the passengers was Laura Dekker who had just arrived in Shelter Bay in her boat 'Guppy' having recently completed a solo circumnavigation of the World. Laura who was controversially denied by the Guinness Book of Records the accolade of being the youngest person to ever sail round the world is putting all the fuss and bother behind her and heading to New Zealand to start a new life, although she is no longer single handed!
Laura's boat Guppy at Shelter Bay - we never took Laura's picture but there's no shortage of them on the internet and her story is an interesting one
Three young men have joined her for some of the trip including her new 'beau' Bruno who Laura met up with in Bonaire in the Dutch Antilles. One thing that struck us being in the same marina was that she is extremely mature for her age (not yet 17) and that in Bruno she has met up with one mean guitar player. We had a chance to see him play when the 'Shelter Belters' a resident trio of musicians augmented by any visiting minstrels that care to join in played in the restaurant one evening. We grabbed a table with our friends and enjoyed some good music including a rendition of Thick as a Brick a classic from Jethro Tull in the 70's.
                                         The 'Shelter Belters' featuring Bruno from 'Guppy' and a not too bad flautist from another cruising boat all watched by us old sods
We were delayed a further day at Shelter Bay when we discovered that it was a Public Holiday in Panama and there was no service on the fuel dock. This was annoying as we needed to take on more fuel to get to Bocas. This part of the Caribbean is seldom windy enough to sail for any distance especially heading west. So we had another day to enjoy the pool and generally relax having fully prepped the boat the day before. We enjoyed the company of some new friends we'd made in San Blas who had arrived in Shelter Bay ready to lift out for the summer whilst they flew home. They kindly donated some of their overstocks of food to us whish was much appreciated. They also introduced us to 'Table Cribbage' one evening which is a different game to the standard Crib we play onboard.
With the Public Holiday over and done with and the Marina invoice paid up we cast off, having called the fuel dock to inquire if it was available. It was confirmed over the radio. When we did arrive a yacht had nipped in front of us so we had to stooge around in a stiff breeze for 30 minutes in tight quarters with a few million squids worth of megayachts docked behind us to keep Skip's mind focused on maintaining station. When we did eventually get alongside the fuel dock which is an old tug or maybe that should be 'tub' called the 'Panama Star' we found that the delivery nozzle they hand to you looks like an anti-tank missile launcher weighing about 30 lbs excluding the weight of the thick hose attached to it. The crew of 'Panama Star' must take perverse pleasure in seeing poor yachties stagger around their decks wielding this thing before then blasting diesel all over their precious craft when the attendant turns the pump on. As we filter every drop of diesel we take onboard this makes it worse as we can't get the nozzle into the tank where it should be. At full output our 40 gals would have taken about the equivalent number of seconds to take on but as the next boat after us was due to take on 3000 gals it was hard to complain about the flow rate. Skip was left ever so gently squeezing the two foot long nozzle looking like an whimpish version of Rambo. The 'Admiral' was standing by with a roll of valuable kitchen towel.
Eventually we motored out of Colon Harbour clearing the deck of spilt diesel as we went whilst trying not to get in the way of incoming canal-bound shipping. With so many anchored ships showing on AIS on our navigation screen it looked like the Battle of Hastings with arrows depicting each commercial ship.  With so many 'targets' it's sometimes difficult to pick up the one at the back of the fleet that has got underway and is heading at 10 knots for the entrance. It didn't help that the entrance itself was a turmoil of incoming wind driven waves colliding with outgoing current which gave us a rough but quick exit as we headed to the west and for Bocas. At least the wind was from a favourable direction but for how long was anybody's guess.    
                                         And finally - The 'Admiral' enjoys a final plate of excellent Shelter Bay Fish ''n' Chips with poor old 'Ajaya' dwarfed by a Lagoon 500 bound for Australia